As a consequence of armed conflicts, people inevitably die or go missing, causing suffering and anguish for their families and their communities. People have the right to know what has happened to their loved ones, while governments, armed forces and armed groups must provide information and help reunite families.

If a missing person is alive, the first concern is obviously to find them and to make sure that they are treated in conformity with the law, according to the category to which they belong (civilian, POW, wounded and sick, etc.). If the person is found dead, their family must be informed about the circumstances of the death and the place of burial. Respect for human dignity applies beyond a person’s death to their remains. This is all the more relevant in the current COVID-19 pandemic, as handling the remains of COVID-19 victims may pose additional challenges in countries already affected by armed conflicts. Finally, the feelings of the family and the community towards the dead must also be taken into consideration.

In light of the additional challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, how do international law and IHL tackle all these concerns? What measures must parties to armed conflicts take to clarify the fate of missing persons? What must be done to bring families back together? And if the missing person is found dead? This highlight seeks to address these questions through various case studies and resources available on” How does law protect in war?” and the ICRC’s website.

VERSION FRANCAISE (PDF) => CLIQUEZ SUR LE LIEN SUIVANT: Coup de projecteur sur les personnes portées disparues et les morts disponible sur le site du blog Quid Justitiae de la Clinique de droit pénal et humanitaire (traduction de l'Université Laval).

The Law
An in-depth overview of the IHL framework applying to the missing, the dead, and their families can be found in The Law chapter on the Wounded, sick, shipwrecked, dead and missing, which was recently updated in collaboration with the International Criminal and Humanitarian Law Clinic (ICHLC) within the Law Faculty of Laval University, Canada.
The Practice
A selection of related case studies from The Practice further illustrates:
The obligation for each party to the conflict to search for persons reported missing:
The obligation to identify dead bodies and notify death:
Treatment of remains:
Role of the ICRC in facilitating family contacts and reunifications:
Those case studies were prepared by students from the University of Geneva, Faculty of Law, and from the Geneva Academy of IHL and human rights.
A to Z
The A to Z online ’dictionary’ provides further definitions and legal sources on Missing Persons, Enforced disappearances, Family reunification, Dead persons, Remains, Burial, Graves and Central Tracing Agency.
To go further: other resources on the missing and the dead          
The missing and the dead in the COVID-19 pandemic and other COVID-19 related resources